A few intense, fun, challenging, roller-coaster-like yet magical months into my year at INSEAD, my friends back home ask me; “Louise, how is it going? Is the experience what you expected?” My reply is standard: “Oh, it is amazing. I am learning so much, the opportunities are fantastic and the people so incredibly inspiring”. It’s all very, very true.
But there is something more to pursuing an MBA than the academic experience, the global network you build and the dream job you land at the end. Part of the business school journey is the expectation to find answers to the significant questions in life. What am I about? Where do I want to live and work? What makes me happy?
I came to INSEAD with a confident and clear view of who I was and what I wanted to get out of the MBA. Having dramatically changed my life two years earlier and found my passion in life, moving from a finance career in the Square Mile of London to teaching leadership to youth at the African grassroots, I thought I had my life figured out. INSEAD was supposed to be the springboard into my next career as a social entrepreneur. I was going to be the next Jacqueline Novogratz and live a happy life ever after. Done. Easy.
What I didn’t anticipate was how the 75-country strong potpourri of culturally diverse people with different rulers, the academic focus on delivering shareholder value and the vast number of possible post-INSEAD opportunities was going to uproot me again. Once more, I was contemplating my view of the world, and my place in it.
Instead of finding answers and solutions, I had more and more questions.
Perhaps I got the wrong end of the stick. Maybe we are not here to find answers. Slowly, I started to realize that I will probably never find this one thing I am meant to do, or this one person that I am meant to be. As a naturally curious and adventurous person, I thrive in a constantly evolutionary world. As uneasy and uncertain as it might feel sometimes, I could not choose to live any other way.
My mentor Trevor always says that awareness of personal traits and preferences is fundamental to personal growth. For me to understand and accept the fact that my life journey is probably going to be a series of moments of re-invention; total disruption, letting go, breaking down and then taking new risks in order to emerge again someplace different, is what awareness means to me.
Key to happiness and success might not be the ability to find the answer to who we are. What really matters is to keep searching and never stop asking those questions about life. To find the strength to embrace chaos. To have the ability to believe in something, and acknowledge that what you believe in might change over time. It is about possessing the courage to fail and start over. It is about understanding ones fears, because without fear, courage could not exist. It is about recognising that there is no such thing as status quo.
So many times in my life have I thought to know the answer to who I am with the notion of “this is it”. Not once did my life turn out that way.
For example, when I landed my first position after university as an accountant. I was over the moon and aiming straight for partnership. Oh dear, who did I think I was fooling? After six months I was so bored I escaped to London in pure despair. Or when I found the man I thought I was destined to grow old with, to then three years later find myself alone again. Or even when walking away from the most incredible experience of my life to date, where my work was about touching souls and hearts of young people in Africa built on absolute passion, humanity and love.
To some people, an MBA might be the right vehicle to find that dream career, but for me, it is quite the opposite.
It is a wonderful opportunity to discover more and more of those things I am, and can be. Everyday I discover something new about myself and I feel something; happiness, fear, joy, love, confusion. By observing how I feel, I can discover the many little selves inside me. I learn when and how they play out, and how contradictory they can be.
The world is a complex paradox, so naturally we humans are too.
Surrounded by diversity, interdependence, fast-paced change and disruption, the MBA is the perfect place to ask more and more of those questions that really matter. It encourages us to live our lives as the ultimate creative expression of who we are. Whatever shape, form or expression this might take in this moment called present.